Grandparents as Living Libraries

Ostensibly, my sons and I traveled from Boston to the San Francisco Bay Area this past weekend to celebrate Baba's birthday.

That's what I told people, anyway.

But the truth is that these regular trips to Didu and Dadu's house -- note the open door and my Dad waiting on the porch -- are a shortcut to keeping my heritage alive in the next generation.

The best part is that it's never forced. Bengali music constantly plays in the background. Ma lavishes them with her fresh-cooked specialties, and the boys are always free to eat with their fingers as they would if they were in Kolkata. Baba tells them stories about his high school days, and we laugh at his jokes. Both my parents forget and speak Bangla as if the boys understand it, and I watch in amazement as sometimes they seem to.

Like me, authors Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic), and Salma Ali (India), came to the U.S.A. as children. As part of NPR's series on the children of immigrants, they reflect on the "transformation of immigrants in America as the next generation assimilates." Danticat reminds us of the power of grandparents, which our family experiences each time we visit California:
Do you have older living relatives who, in addition to everything they represent, also represent a culture that we're no longer living in? So having these sort of living libraries, I think, is important to this next generation.
It's clear that North American older adults of all races and cultures are an untapped source for young people struggling with identity and self-esteem issues. In a culture that divides seniors and teens, it seems daunting to connect the generations. Perhaps stories told by newer Americans like Danticat, Diaz, and Ali are uniquely able to inspire and inform our communities in this challenge.


Anonymous said…
Grandparents are so important in defining identity. I grew up as an Air Force brat but whenever my dad went overseas we went back to Denver where the grandparents and great grandparents lived. My great grandparents, despite being born in Colorado never spoke English. I've always felt well connected to my roots even when I didn't know much about them. When I was 16 I went on a road trip through Mexico with my grandparents and years later discovered that the places we visited were places that played a role in our family over generations. Vera Cruz were the fist Vigil in North America landed, Zacatecas where the Vigils lived until moving to what is now New Mexico in the 1720s, and more.
Vivian said…
Your parents must have loved having all of you there! How I envy those who knew their grandparents or other older relatives who could share stories of the past.
tanita davis said…
A culture we no longer live in -- sometimes even that exists timewise, you know? African Americans are still here, but the world my grandparents knew is most decidedly not... a strange double vision as we look through their eyes -- we live in the now and the not-yet, and they're a step back, looking between the past and the now...
Stacy said…
One of the best gifts my grandmother gave to me was a mini autobiography she wrote about 15 years ago (she is turning 100 next week!). She wrote about immigrating to Canada, and what it was like for her and her family. Year by year as my daughters get older, I try to make connections to our family's past. This year, for example, I did some canning with my daughters using my grandmother's recipes. I'm glad that I have them written out in her hand.
nancy said…
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